Optimistic Nihilism

Posted on 21-05-2022 | Last edited on 21-05-2022
The great truth is there isn't one
These are the words with which Polish black metal band Mgła open their album Exercises in Futility. This sentence contains an interesting idea, which goes further than stating there is no great truth; It implies the paradoxical notion that the lack of a great truth is the greatest truth, which is probably the most succinct explanation of nihilism I have come across. As is tradition when it comes to metal, especially metal of the nihilistic variety, the album's lyrics are rather morose. The next sentence reads
And it only gets worse since that conclusion.
Does it though?

Nihilism, the belief that everything is ultimately meaningless, need not be interpreted as something negative. Quite the contrary, our insignificant position in the infinite universe, and the subsequent lack of a great truth or goal, I can only see as a positive.

The knowledge that you have nowhere you must go and nothing you must do, allows you to avoid getting caught up in things you should have done. The words it'll be fine got me through many stressful situations because I do not need to worry about what could have been. Instead, I know that it does not really matter how things end up going in the long run. This is not an excuse to get careless, but it is a reason to be carefree.

The following quote from J.R.R. Tolkien provides quite an eloquent way to put what I mean into words:
'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'
Tolkien, being a devout Christian, would likely have disagreed with the use of his quote in an essay on nihilism. I would counter that believing that everything is part of God's mysterious ways is not dissimilar to believing that you are completely insignificant in the face of the universe. Either way, setbacks are out of your control, things end up different from what you had hoped, and you just carry on with what you have.

It is perfectly fine to simply go with the flow of the world. Not having a goal in mind does not imply that you are lacking one. You can be fully content wandering, metaphorically or physically, without knowing where you want to end up. It should be noted that this does not mean a nihilist cannot also be an idealist. Your idealism may be meaningless once you and everything you know are long gone, but that should not stop you from striving for that which you personally find important while you are able to do so.

In the absence of a predefined goal, we are provided with a blank canvas and we are free to decide for ourselves what to paint. If there is no ultimate meaning to our existence, then the only meaning that matters is the one you give yourself. If there is no great truth from which to derive the correct things to do, whatever you decide to do might as well be right. In short, the great truth is there isn't one, and it only gets better since that conclusion.


I am in no way the first to come up with the idea of optimistic nihilism. What I have written here has been written many times before by people far better suited to discuss topics like this. This video from the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt is a good example.